I had a terrible weekend of bike riding last weekend. My legs hurt, my back ached, my stomach grumbled, revolted and stopped functioning all together. I didn’t sleep enough, drink enough or eat enough. The result, expectedly, was that my planned 100 mile race turned into a slow painful 32 mile grind, before the motivation to sleep overcame the motivation to keep riding. The situation, although dire, wasn’t all bad. I learnt a few things about ‘Nutrition’.

Sitting there, underneath the Mix1 tent at the start finish area, feeling sorry for myself, I listened into the buzz surrounding me. The crowds cheered more when the leaders came through – people looking on in awe as their machines were oiled, pockets refilled and bottles changed in lightening speed before being propelled back out into the high country. As the riders kept pouring through, the hubbub decreased to the occasional rider dismounting, rummaging around in their bags to find calories and hauling their bedraggled bodies back onto their bikes for another 4 hours of high altitude suffering. The word kept on being repeated, in generally the same context.

“does he have enough nutrition?”

“Honey stinger is my preferred nutrition”

“what nutrition are you using?”

“Nutrition is the key to 100 mile races”

No. It isn’t. Food and water is the key to 100 mile races.

Nutrition (to be pedantic) is the provision, in the form of food, of the materials necessary to sustain life. That sugary fruit flavoured gloopy fluid you’re consuming isn’t nutrition. Its food, and whether it is nutritious is debatable. Those bricks of pre-chewed and reconstituted rabbit food containing 500,000 ingredients (each one preceded  by the word ‘organic’) shouldn’t be presumed to be healthy because they have a picture of a toned and tanned athlete on the packaging. If you really need to put that many ingredients into something, and it still doesn’t taste good or even feel right when you eat it, then something is wrong.

So now it comes to my dilemma; How, when I’m putting my body under so much stress, can I consume enough calories to provide the energy I need, without resorting to nasty combinations of corn syrup with artificial flavouring. This is a question I think about a lot. And I’ve found that its almost impossible to avoid eating terrible stuff to race well. I’ve made sure the sugary powder I shovel into my water bottles (also known as diabetes juice) is corn free (for a good and indepth analysis of why to avoid corn, read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan); the ingredients fit onto two lines, and I know what each of them does. For solid food, having grown up on a small Devonshire farm, I really like the prodigious and well known Honey based products currently available; again they have fewer ingredients than most, and also a natural sugar source.

So although I try my best and think about what I eat a lot when I’m racing, When it comes down to it, I’m limited by what is available and what will make me perform well. In the end, sport at the Elite level isn’t actually healthy – its a nasty and consuming blur of passion and obsession that takes people to places they wouldn’t otherwise go.

Heading to Steamboat Springs this weekend for the Honey Stinger sponsored Steamboat Stinger. My aims for the weekend are very simple: relax and enjoy, eat and sleep. If I can get these things right, I’m confident that I will be competitive.